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Heated discussion at Wicker Park Advisory Council: Gutter Punks and security
Gutter Punks' (a.k.a. crusty punks, rail riders, travelers, selectively homeless, etc.) behavior in Wicker Park and the changing safety concerns of Park patrons had most Advisory Council members and neighbors expressing deep-seated frustrations, pent up over several years.
Gutter/Crusty Punks behavior
Neighbors disgusted, angry and fearful over the results of the Gutter Punks' behavior in and around Wicker Park were expressed by Mike Payette. "I think that after all the work that has gone into the Park that we are losing people, families, because they are afraid to come into the Park," said Payette. "When we moved here 25 years ago, people would not come into the Park. I don't want to see that happen again."
"Though many punks will be leaving for the season, we have to have a plan in effect for next Spring. We have to show them that we are a Park that follows the rules and they can not stay here if they don't." He does not think that the message about bad behavior not being acceptable has been given to them.
Neighbors and patrons of the park see it all: The drug deals, the beatings of Punks against Punks and their own dogs, drunkenness, sleeping in the park and gardens all night [Park closes at 11 p.m.], using the bush areas for toilet facilities, ripping up plantings, having dogs off leashes, using the fountain as a pool for themselves and their dogs and the filth and trash left behind by the ever changing groups, known as Gutter or Crusty Punks that rotate in and out of Wicker Park during the summer.
"There are others in the Park too that deal drugs, are verbally rude and abusive to people walking by, leave trash and make it unpleasant for others to be around them and they are here all year long," commented George Mariner, another longtime resident.
Several women with children who have worked with the Advisory Council have now indicated that they will not come in the Park anymore except for a specific event in the Field House or a big outdoor event. They are frightened.
What is being done
To make sure people know the Park rules and to engage patrons who use the space, the new Park Supervisor, Claribel Rodriguez, is going out into the Park and talking with various individuals. "I think it is working some what and I also have other staff members going out into the Park."
The part time Park Security guard, Ginny Warnecke, who has also has made a positive change in the Park, also goes out and talks with the various patrons of the Park. Unfortunately she was off on medical leave for over a month and Chicago Park District Security did not replace her during the high volume park usage period. Hours for this position are 5 to 9 p.m. five days a week, not including weekends.
Various meetings of 1st Ward Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno, 14th Police District personnel, Chicago Park District personnel and Advisory Council members have occurred. Police Commander Frances Valadez and Wicker Park Detail Sergeant Giambrone have talked with various patrons and warned them that they will be ticketed and arrested for illegal behavior. Beat Cops are stepping up ticketing of everyone in the Park who are not following the Park's Code of Conduct.
At 11 p.m. each night, a police car is to come in and make a sweep of the Park. The 14th Police District is also to be checking the Park during the overnight hours.
Neighbors report that the "Punks" in their camouflage and dark bags lay down flat on the ground and are therefore not seen in the shadows by the cruising police car. Once the police leave, they resume whatever they were doing.
During the Council Meeting, Giambrone stopped by to request more park "closing" and "no alcohol" signs be posted in the Park. That was set in motion on Wednesday.
Council members and neighbors question protocol
While some people in the area have suggested that the "Punks" be banned from the Park, legally that is obviously not possible. In order for the police to ticket or arrest anyone, that person must be caught in an illegal act or at least one other person must file a complaint.
Despite the uptick in Police presence in the Park, some council members and neighbors question about what the proper actions should be.
"When someone sees someone doing drugs or drinking in the Park, should they call 911," asked Council Member John Shirk. "Or should they find a Park Staff Person?" The answer was "Do both. Call 911 then report it to Staff who should also call 911." The other reminder is that when you call in to 911 as well as 311, be sure to get a case number. Keep the case number, the person's name who took the call along with the date and time of the call for future reference, if needed.
"If you speak with a 311 operator, be sure to tell them to report the incident to the Police Department NOT Park Security," advises Denise Browning who volunteers in the Park almost every day 12-months-a-year. "I didn't know that and the 14th District never got the report."
Questions about security
In addition to the Chicago Police Department coverage, the Park District Security is to be rotating throughout the park system on a regular basis. They are also responsible for assigning and managing the part-time security guard.
To increase security two cameras at the expense of $30,000 were installed in the park to two years ago. When there is a problem that occurs in the Park there is a procedure to be followed that should result in the 14th Police District obtaining the footage of the incident. The process is that the Park District staff files a report of the incident with the 14th Police District. They in turn file a Clear Report so that the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) can pull footage from the camera and get it to the 14th District.
The reality is that once in the two years, the 14th received such footage. That occurred in the last couple of months. However, the police have indicated that the quality of the images from the $15,000 (each) cameras is so bad, no one is recognizable.
Moreno has worked with the Park District to have a new camera installed that will be viewed by the Park Staff and increase security to 6 days per week. At this time the camera location and who will monitor it is not known. Days to be covered by the security guard have also not been determined.
Tom Byrne who recently took over as head of the Park District's Security Department is working with OEMC to have a live feed of all park cameras into his office on Northerly Island. He in turn will have staff to monitor them.
The Advisory Council has been working with the Park District, Police Department, Alderman's office, SSA #33, the WPB Chamber and other community organizations for more than five years to try to prevent the Park from being in this perilous position.
There have been and are an unprecedented number of events occurring each year in Wicker Park. Those activities are the result of a multitude of different groups and the tireless work of dedicated gardeners, many of whom do not live in the community.
Doug Wood, who has spearheaded most of the activities said, "We don't feel that we have been successful . It is time for the neighbors to join in on fixing the situation because as Joni Mitchell says, 'You don't know what you've got until its gone.'"
The Wicker Park Advisory Council meets each month on the first Tuesday of the month in the Field House, 1425 N. Damen Ave. at 7 p.m.
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Crime Stats & CAPS Beats
- 12th Police District - CLICK
Not Available Larceny 0 Motor Veh Theft 0 Burglary 0 Robbery 0 Aggrav. Assault 0 Aggrav. Battery 0 Homicides 0 Criminal Sex Assault 0 Arson 0
- 14th Police District - CLICK
APR 4 -17: Larceny 24 Motor Veh Theft 10 Burglary 19 Robbery 7 Aggrav. Assault 2 Aggrav. Battery 3 Homicides 1 Criminal Sex Assault 0 Arson 3
- CAPS Beats
12/11/2013 - 10:00am - 2:00pm
12/30/2013 - 11:00am - 4:00pm
01/06/2014 - 10:00am - 2:00pm
01/11/2014 - 10:00am - 2:00pm
02/08/2014 - 5:00pm - 7:00pm